Raised on Madness Print E-mail
Written by Stuart Rintoul   

The Australian's feature article, Friday  31 March 2000
by Stuart Rintoul, reproduced here with permission

AN apple is dropped into a bowl of water.  A young woman is asked to bob for it.  She has her hands clasped behind her back, the way children have to play the game.  Everyone laughs.  But then two people are walking around her, teasing and taunting, picking at her.  And it's not a funny game anymore.

"Young people who have a mentally ill parent are set an impossible task," says Paul McKillop, who has been one of the woman's mock tormentors.  He says it angrily, and says it twice.  "They have to put up with someone else's mental illness every day ... and the little bit of nagging that we did is nothing."

The scene is a conference staged by McKillop's National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have Mentally Ill Parents (NNAAMI).  It is the only pretense in a day of draining emotions, captured by a 17 year-old girl who arrives from northern Victoria with her mentally ill mother and reads a poem about their relationship.

I'm searching- for something, that's so hard to find,

I'm falling down mountains I can't seen to climb ...

You push me away when I come near.

I'm scared of you Mummy dear

She walks off the stage and curls into her mother's arms.

McKillop is a  man at war with the system.

Often he is choking back tears as he talks about the plight of children of mentally ill parents, about James, 17, who would find his  mother in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor and the next day use the same knife to cut his sandwiches for school; about Dan, 9, who says his mother is "half a mother and half a nightmare" to him; about a little boy who would climb out of bed in the wee hours to go with the milkman on his rounds just to escape his home for a little while.

These are the invisible victims of mental illness, he says.  Invisible and virtually unfunded despite government reports acknowledging their needs, including the 1998 National Mental Health Strategy and last year's federal Mental Health Promotion and Prevention National Action Plan.

"These children are not going to have it easy, but they deserve to have a few cushions put under them," McKillop says. "I often hear, 'If we could only get rid of the stigma regarding mental illness everything would be better'.  No, I'm sorry. crap.  Mental illness is not going to go away even if you could take away the stigma, the effect on these kids would still remain."

Cerian Jones who, with her siblings, sneaked away from their mother when she was 15

Sitting in the front row, Cerian Jones, 30, is crying.  It was a small thing that started it, remembering how her mother threatened to kill her goldfish when she was a child.  A small thing from a childhood in which nothing was ever safe, or constant. Neither big things such as the direction of her life nor small things such as the color of the walls or her bed-head.

Now she is whispering into a phone and the memories come like shards of glass. She begins with a good memory: tickle fights with her mother - it is a flickering image of a loving relationship overwhelmed by madness.  "When I was 5 1/2 my mother tried to kill herself," she says. "I've been told about it, I don't remember that.  She stabbed herself In the heart well, I guess it was in the heart, and then, she tried to cut out her tongue."
She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. For the next 10 years, before they crept away, the family careened around her madness.  Cerian, her older brother and younger sister did not call their mother "mum" they called her "It".  " You couldn't call her anything else," she says.  "You didn't want to identify her as part of the human race."

"It was like the air was, for me, really mean. If you're a kid and your mother is shooting into the air and shouting at walls and televisions and all sorts of things ... It's like, there would be bad news everywhere, no matter where you were.

"I hated school, because I felt really, really different from everybody, I was really quiet.  I remember sitting in the shelter shed,  I felt like someone was watching me. Because my mother was scared of things that didn't exist she taught me to be scared of things that didn't exist too and because of the things she said, it was like ... I don't know why, it was just like I felt, I felt really, really ashamed just being alive, I guess, and that I didn't actually deserve anything.  I just didn't feel good about myself."

As many as one in five Australians suffers some form of mental illness, ranging from schizophrenia to depression, totalling nearly 3 million people, including children.  It is a baneful statistic, one that drives mental health policy.  But what are its collateral implications?  US research shows that children of parents with depression are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than other children: British research has found that living with a psychiatric illness is an indicator of risk for repeated overdose attempts among adolescents.

For the children of mentally ill parents it translates into hidden feelings of anger, rage, fear, isolation, humiliation, loneliness, guilt, profound sadness, anxiety, the double bind of love for the parent and hatred for the illness, the resentment they feel for never having a childhood, never having fun, never being able to trust.  It is a long inventory of emotional damage that far outweighs the resilience, insight, patience, inner strength, and capacity to love difficult people that might be seen as positive outcomes.

Cerian Jones: "I feel totally isolated and I find it extremely difficult to make friends and actually trust that they are my friends.  Very, very scared, just of nothing really.  In a constant state of alertness, my brain is churning over.

"I just feel totally separate.  It's mainly isolation, even in relationships.  It is really difficult to make a life because I feel like I'm just sitting there, like when I was young and just sitting there waiting.  When I was younger I was waiting to see what happens next, waiting to see how I needed to protect myself next, that sort of thing.

"I can tell you what I've experienced, but sometimes I feet like I don't even know what happened.  A lot of confusion.  It's like you're brought up on another planet and you come down to Earth and everything is different ...

"I was scared I was going to kill myself.  From what I understand talking to people, just about everyone probably thinks chat they will go mad.  When I was about 14, my auntie said,  'Jesus, you took like your mum'.  She was really happy when she said it. but I thought, oh no.  She was identifying me with my mum and that was really scary because that was identifying me as someone who could be mentally ill, I could hurt all these people, I could destroy all these lives, I could be isolated and totally rejected, be a nobody.

"But I still hurt and as a child I still miss her.  I mean, I'm not a child now, but there's this hole inside of me and when I went back to talk with her I think part of me, that child in me, was still looking for a mother."

A politician comes and launches NNAAMI's Web site (www.vicnet.net.au/ -nnaami/).  He cuts a blue ribbon and leaves.  It is something, but it is not the funding for programs targeting those most at risk for which McKillop has been asking.  In the chill of the early evening, a woman sits on a beach remembering scenes from her childhood, talking about the part of her mother that is her, the fear in her that she might go mad too.

"You come home from school, the door doesn't open to a mother saying, 'Hi sweetheart, how was your day at school?
Come in, sit down, have milk and cookies and tell me about your day?"'.  Nothing.  There's nothing.  Open the door, there's no sound.

"Mum's in the bathroom.  I'm under 10, I don't know how old I was, mum was in there for ages, I'm banging on the door, finally she comes out. she's cut off her hair, her eyes are off somewhere and she says, 'Elizabeth is dead'.  That was her name.  That's terror.  I was f... ing terrified, and confused.  What does she mean she's dead?"

"Little dreams that aren't there, you come home and wipe up the blood, and in all my mothers years of psychiatric care, nobody ever once thought about us kids. It was like we were invisible, totally invisible."

p 12 - THE AUSTRALIAN www.news.com.au Friday March 31, 2000


Jarvis Walker     Arlec

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Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


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